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Incredible Capacity to Rationalize

It seems that coffee shops and alternative newspapers go hand in hand. I don’t completely understand the connection, but all I know is that it’s just not a coffee shop if the only thing they have to read is the local, mainstream, owned-by-a-huge-corporation newspaper. At my shop, whenever there is a lull in the business, we reach for our own local alt rag.

Now, this is not to say there is anything wrong with reading the local paper. In a “real” newspaper you might read to become better informed about the world around you and the issues that are currently being debated in our culture. Not only will you understand the issues of the day more clearly by reading the conventional newspaper, but you will be able to make better decisions in light of the issues that are discussed. There is a real benefit in reading the local paper.

I get no such benefit from reading the local alternative newspaper. This is because the first place I turn is to the weird news stories. This is a collection of crazy incidents that have happened all over the world. They usually involve people doing stupid things that explain why our founding fathers gave us an Electoral College. The only benefit I get from reading these stories is a laugh and a sense of superiority. Yes, I read them because they justify me.

One day I read this story about a man from Indiana who was sentenced to prison for robbing a bank. In his defense he said that he robbed the bank because of federal corrections officials. You see, when he had been sent to prison in 1982, had they correction officials sent him to a prison near his mother in Florida, he would have been able to turn his life around and wouldn’t have robbed the bank. The charges for this man didn’t end with a bank robbery. Apparently, he was also charged with shooting at police officers as he fled the scene of the crime. For this, his defense was that they were shooting at him.

Do you now see why I like these stories (and they feed my self-righteousness)? I don’t tell you about this man just to show you yet another way I build my own righteousness apart from Christ. My point is our incredible capacity to rationalize.

This man came up what is perhaps the lousiest excuse for robbing a bank and shooting at people I have ever heard of. However, there is a real logic behind his explanation. Perhaps his lawyer put things more eloquently: the malevolent conditions of his incarceration lead to his inevitable recidivism and denied him the positive maternal influence that would have enabled him to rehabilitate. Either way, the (and I think it is safe not to have to say “alleged”) bank robber actually believe that the crimes weren’t his fault. He had a perfectly good explanation in his own mind.

Isn’t this just like us? We always have a good excuse for our sin- but we never see it as an excuse. Everyone around us might be able to see what we have done wrong, but we, just like the bank robber, have a perfectly good explanation. Our own righteousness is so important for us to defend that we create elaborate, sophisticated, and logical explanations so that we don’t have to admit being wrong. This is how we can live our lives on our own terms and not have to rely on Christ’s righteousness.

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